Tag Archives: editing

The A to D of writing multiple choice tests

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

Multiple choice tests are hard to get right. And I’m not just thinking of the time I scored 19% in a school physics test – statistically less than if I’d just guessed every answer. It’s actually really tricky to write high-quality questions and answer options that genuinely assess knowledge and understanding. As with a lot of the topics discussed on this blog, it’s a type of writing and editing that seems easy until you try it.

What do I mean by multiple choice (or multi-choice) questions and answers? They’re the ones with a standalone question (the stem) where the correct answer (the key) is hidden among three or four wrong answers (distractors). The people responding (let’s call them students) have to choose one or more answers from the options given. For example:

What noise does a cat make?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key]
      4. Baa

And what do I know about multiple choice questions? Well, quite a bit. I have edited hundreds, maybe thousands, of them for one of the UK’s biggest test providers over the past 15 years. I’ve also written and edited them for, well, multiple other contexts, including textbooks, revision guides, workbooks and online learning materials.

A good multi-choice test is an objective measurement of a student’s knowledge, which can be taken and marked online, with instant feedback. However, from my experience, authors usually don’t know what a good () – or bad ()– multi-choice test looks like. They might be experts in their subject but they’ve never been taught how to actually write a test. And there’s a lot they should know, involving some pretty complex pedagogical concepts. I don’t have space to go into Bloom’s Taxonomy here but the goal is to ensure that the test is an unobtrusive channel for assessing the student’s knowledge.

So here’s a quick primer, covering four common problems.

Problem A: The question doesn’t make sense

The question must be pitched appropriately for who is taking the test. Unless it’s a Key Stage 2 SATs test, the aim is to find out what students know, not how well they can read or understand long words. Clarity is vital. The wording of question and answers should be concise and unambiguous, assessing knowledge, not literacy skills. There is usually no need to fill the question with irrelevant and confusing information:

Pet cats may be kept inside or outside, or be able to move freely between the house and garden. Sometimes neighbouring cats can enter the house in this way but owners can allow only their cat to come in by installing a special cat flap. How?

What type of cat flap prevents the wrong cats from entering the house?

Students shouldn’t have to waste time under exam conditions trying to work out what they are being asked. The question should be self-contained so that it makes sense without the answers.

My cat Pixel is:

      1. tortoiseshell.
      2. black and white. [key]
      3. ginger.
      4. tabby.

What colour is my cat Pixel?

      1. Tortoiseshell
      2. Black and white [key]
      3. Ginger
      4. Tabby

Avoid colloquialisms and unnecessarily complex language. Of course, you might want to find out whether students know a particular technical term, but the structure of the question should make that intention clear and direct.

A cat is a digitigrade. What does this mean?

      1. It has a different number of toes on its front and back paws.
      2. It walks on its toes. [key]
      3. It stands with its toes flat on the ground.
      4. It has claws.

Technical terms applied in the wrong context might also make for credible distractors.

Opinions differ on negatively phrased questions. Some people argue that they’re confusing, while others say they make students read the question more carefully. I think they’re fine under the right circumstances, and as long as the negative word (eg ‘not’) is obvious (eg formatted
in bold).

Problem B: The distractors are too obvious

I see this issue more than any other. The author knows what they want the students to know but struggles to think of plausible distractors.

What is the common name for the species felis catus?

      1. Cat
      2. Dog
      3. Elephant
      4. Human

If the correct answer can be easily guessed without any background knowledge, the question has failed in its purpose. And a test isn’t the time to try to be funny.

If it’s too hard to think of wrong answers, perhaps it’s the wrong question. Try asking it in a way that allows the distractors to be worth considering. They could be frequent misconceptions, commonly asked questions, otherwise true statements or other related terms or concepts that the student might know. For example:

What is the Latin term for the domestic cat?

      1. Felidae [Latin term for the family ‘cat’]
      2. Felis catus [key]
      3. Panthera [the genus of cats that roar]
      4. Felis silvestris [European wild cat]

All the answer options should have a similar sentence structure that follows on logically from the question. It’s the same principle as wording bullet lists to follow platform sentences – errors may unintentionally draw attention to the wrong (or right) answers.

Cats are crepuscular because they:

      1. they like to knead your laps with their paws.
      2. of their rough tongues.
      3. like to go out at dawn and dusk. [key]
      4. prefers to go out during the day.

Option lengths should be consistent – often, the correct answer is obvious because it is much longer or shorter than the distractors, and phrased slightly differently.

Where does Pixel most like to be stroked?

      1. On his back
      2. Around his face, ears, chin and at the base of his tail, where his scent glands are [key]
      3. On his tummy
      4. On his paws

Pixel deep in thought during a maths test

Avoid ‘All of the above’ – it’s a copout. Students only need to realise that more than one answer could be right to reasonably guess that ‘All of the above’ is the correct answer.

What is a cat’s favourite pastime?

      1. Sleeping
      2. Being stroked
      3. Sitting on laps
      4. All of the above.

With this example, you could also argue that ‘favourite’ implies a single pastime that the cat enjoys more than any other. ‘All of the above’, therefore, is doubly confusing.

‘None of the above’ is also a meaningless option, as it does not identify whether the student knows the correct answer.

On a related note, avoid acronym questions. Not only could a student successfully argue that a collection of letters stands for anything you want it to, but it’s also hard to write realistic distractors for a specific acronym.

What does RSPCA stand for?

      1. Really Special People’s Cats Association
      2. Royal Society for the Protection of Cats and Animals
      3. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
      4. Running Short of Possible Cat Answers

If the test isn’t delivered via software that randomises the position of the answers each time it’s administered, vary the placement of the key throughout the test, to avoid any patterns.

Problem C: The questions and/or answers are ambiguous

This is the opposite problem to the obvious distractors. A student may find that more than one option could be correct, but a multi-choice test doesn’t give the opportunity for students to answer ‘it depends’.

What noise does a cat make?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key?]
      4. Purr [key?]

Authors are sometimes advised to ask students to find the ‘best’ answer rather than the ‘correct’ answer but this rather skates over the need for precise wording. In this case, it would be better to ask a more specific question that tests a higher level of understanding:

What noise do cats make to communicate with humans?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key]
      4. Purr

Don’t ask ‘What would you do?’, as the student could easily defend any answer with ‘Well, I would do that!’. Similarly, avoid anything that could be seen as subjective or absolute:

Why are cats so cute?
Why do cats love fish?
Why does Pixel only come into my office when I’m in a Zoom meeting?

But it’s also important not to be too specific. Avoid closed questions – they limit the distractors:

Are whiskers a type of hair?

      1. Yes
      2. No
      3. Sometimes
      4. Meaningless fourth distractor

Problem D: The test isn’t tested

It’s not always possible to try out the questions before using them, but they should at least be run past a colleague. You might know what you mean but other people might not.

As with any edited text, develop a style guide that encompasses any aspects that could be inconsistent – the use of numbers, units and punctuation, for example.

Remember to provide students with clear instructions on how you expect them to take the test. Ensure they know what learning objectives, topics or concepts are being tested, and whether they can refer to notes or use aids such as a calculator.

Tests that are to be administered live (as opposed to being used as self-revision in a textbook) should be kept on a spreadsheet that states clearly when and how the questions have been used.

If possible, keep anonymised data on how students answered each question. There’s quite a bit of analytical science relating to this but, for general tests, all that’s really important is to ask the following:

  • Were there any distractors that nobody chose?
  • Were there any answers that everyone got right?
  • Can variations in students’ results be explained by their different levels of knowledge alone?

Learn from the data and revisit the test to change elements as necessary. Consider, too, whether a multi-choice test format is suitable for assessing everything that needs to be assessed. A bit like this blog post, some topics lend themselves to longer, more evaluative responses, and can’t be properly examined within the constraints of a few options.

But, done right, are multiple choice tests effective tools for assessing learning, useful revision aids and direct channels for measuring knowledge? Well, yes – all of the above …

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has more than 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When she’s not hanging out with other editors (virtually or otherwise), she writes and edits textbooks, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her and posts short, often grumpy, book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

 


Photo credits: multiple cats – The Lucky Neko; hand and paw – Humberto Arellano; whiskers – Kevin Knezic, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

CIEP social media round-up: June and July 2020

In June and July the CIEP looked to create, as well as curate, our social media content.

A CIEP commitment to anti-racism

In June, the CIEP – like many other organisations – sought to respond meaningfully as we reached a tipping point globally: a point at which anti-racism demands more of us than lip service to dismantling structural inequality. On 5 June, we published A CIEP commitment to anti-racism across our social media channels, setting out five steps that the CIEP will take to contribute to change.

‘As editors and proofreaders,’ we noted, ‘there is so much that we can each do to make space for and amplify voices that have historically been and continue to be marginalised and silenced.’ A warm reaction on Facebook (87 likes/loves and 14 shares), Twitter (71 likes and 25 retweets) and LinkedIn (117 likes/loves/applause) demonstrated how keenly this resonates. Both privately and publicly, members expressed emotion at being part of a membership eager to take action; some followed up swiftly on this commitment, forming a working group to translate the CIEP’s words into practice.

Throughout June, the CIEP social media team curated relevant content, including Do the work: an anti-racist reading list, and promoted Black voices, spanning #PublishingPaidMe, a campaign asking authors to reveal their advances and expose race-based pay gaps, a call from the Black Writers’ Guild for sweeping changes in UK publishing and a celebration of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s success as the first Black British author to top the UK’s official book charts. We also shared Alex Kapitan, the Radical Copyeditor, explaining why saying ‘All Lives Matter’ makes things worse, not better, Sophie Playle’s thoughts about how to avoid unconscious bias in your creative writing, and a list of 5 steps freelance editors can take to combat racism. And these efforts continue, the CIEP’s social media being key to our commitment ‘to [seek] out and [amplify] BAME voices and the voices of editors/proofreaders of colour worldwide’.

All the free stuff

As we went into July we continued creating social media content by publicising a range of free-for-everyone and free-for-members fact sheets and focus papers across all our platforms, including a love letter to editing cunningly disguised as a focus paper by our honorary president, David Crystal, called ‘Imagine an editor’. This was popular with our audiences, but we also found that explainers, such as ‘Training for proofreading or copyediting’ and ‘The publishing workflow’, went down well too.

 

Of these, our fact sheet on ‘Proofreading or copyediting?’, which could be used to explain to clients the differences between the two disciplines, went down a storm. We also posted CIEP quizzes 1, 2 and 3 across our platforms, in case any of our audiences had missed them. These got a particularly good response on LinkedIn, with ‘pub quiz’ participants comparing scores and one follower commenting: ‘Fun and educational every time 😊’.

Never forgetting our bookshelves, or the location of the toilet

Pieces on bookshelves, how to organise them, and the books we put on them are always popular with our audiences. In June and July we offered articles (some from the archives) on a bookshelf illusion mural in Utrecht; a list of all the ways to organise your bookshelf, including using the Dewey Decimal System; organising books by colour only; (if more inspiration were needed) how 11 writers organise their personal libraries; and (if all else fails, presumably) the artistic arrangement of books around a person or persons in order to recreate a series of dramatic scenes.

We also took a virtual trip to a writer’s studio in a garden, which could just as easily have been an editor’s studio, we thought (or hoped). One Facebook follower asked: ‘Does it have a toilet? Not going in the bushes …’. Apparently it does, but it’s concealed behind a secret panel. Here’s hoping it’s easily found in moments of need.

Talking of virtual trips, our Facebook followers made the role of books in their lives very clear when, on 1 June, we posted a link to a story about how Covid-19 is forcing authors to change their novels in ways such as avoiding references to flying and including details such as temperature checks. ‘I want to read about a world that’s not burning and going down the drain. I read to escape, not to be reminded that I can’t leave the house’ posted one follower. Oops. Luckily, later in the month we had the opportunity to share an article listing ‘50 brilliant books to transport you this summer’, and then even later (in July) to introduce our audiences to a piece that reviewed novels as if they were travel destinations. The reviewer of Les Misérables, in ‘A misérables trip to Paris’, advises ‘If you’re going to visit Paris, don’t go during revolution, I’d say, or at least don’t bring the kids’. Wise words indeed.

Loving letters

Another thing guaranteed to transport you is a simple handwritten letter, and during lockdown people have been turning to this lo-tech but lovely form of communication. We shared a story about a Colombian library’s campaign to spread positivity through anonymous letters, and a New York Times piece (restricted access) reminding us of the value of letters in these email-soaked days: ‘I do trade big, juicy emails with some people in my life, but receiving them isn’t quite the same as slitting open a letter, taking it to a big chair and settling in for the 20 minutes it takes to devour it’. We were also reminded of the value of using letters in marketing, with a Throwback Thursday blog by Louise Harnby which urged us not to forget the old ways.

Time for fun

As ever, we made space on our social media platforms for fun items, such as Futuracha, the font that changes as you type. And for anyone who has trouble remembering the difference between ‘born’ and ‘borne’, and ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, we posted the clever homophone artwork of Bruce Worden of Homophones, Weakly. Finally, ‘Words we know because of Star Trek’ went down well. So, until the next social media round-up, we send you this sincere wish: live long and prosper, friends.

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Photo credits: letter and coffee – Freddy Castro on Unsplash

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Not working with words

By Liz Jones

An editor attempting to describe their job to a non-editor will often talk about ‘working with words’. This is essentially what we do: we take a client’s raw text, and we make it fit for purpose. But working with words is not all that an editor does. This post looks at some tasks editors might do as part of an editing job, as well as separate but related roles.

Non-textual editorial tasks

There are many things an editor might do in the course of a typical editing job that have nothing at all to do with words.

Checking illustrations, photos and other figures

Many of the things we work on involve pictures and diagrams, whether we’re editing books, websites, marketing materials or annual reports. Sometimes we’ll be specifically briefed to check the figures in a document, especially if they do contain text, but often this expectation will be implicit, and it’s down to the common sense of the editor to make sure that if the text mentions five green apples, the accompanying image doesn’t show three red tomatoes. It’s common for photos to appear with a wrong caption, or for annotations to be misplaced.

It’s also sensible to check that photos haven’t been flipped – which might be fine, but not if they depict something that includes lettering, such as a shop sign, or people carrying out activities that have a specific orientation, like driving cars. Other things editors need to be alert to are items that look out of place or even inappropriate – like red telephone boxes in a publication with a global audience, or people drinking alcohol or smoking in a book for children.

Checking numbers and dates

Many editors say they love words but hate numbers – but still it’s necessary to engage with numbers in all forms, in most of the work that we do. Folios need checking for a start, and cross-references. The degree of elision in number and date ranges must be consistent, and this will often be specified in a house style. Many numbers that we encounter need sense-checking, too. For example, would it be feasible to describe a 1,500km car journey as having taken four hours? Could that historical person possibly have died before they were born? And in certain types of work, such as medical editing, numerically expressed quantities are literally a matter of life and death.

Checking typographical details

Meanwhile, being able to spot a rogue italic comma is not a matter of life and death, but it is arguably still important in its way. And the difference between a hyphen and an en dash may seem trivial to some, but a document that has all its typographical details correct will somehow seem more finished, more credible, than one that has been carelessly formatted – even if the reader can’t quite put their finger on why. Typographic details help to signpost the reader – often unconsciously – and when correct they all add up to a seamless reading experience, enabling the message to be imparted with minimum fuss and maximum accuracy.

Checking layout features

An important part of editing – and proofreading in particular – is ensuring that the layout of a piece of text, along with any accompanying images and graphics, makes sense. You’ll need to develop an eye for ‘page furniture’, whether you’re working in print or online: running heads, menus, pull quotes, breadcrumbs … Often different elements within a larger document will work together and interlink, and each will have a particular meaning, which may be more intuitive than explicit to the reader – but as the editor you will need to understand the rationale behind such design decisions, to be able to assess whether all layout features are present and correct.

Bear in mind, too, that it’s easy when editing to be great at spotting the tiny textual details, and then overlook a typo in a title ten times the size of the rest of the text. Or not to notice that a box or a panel is the wrong colour for its function, or that an entire section of a book is labelled wrongly. One of the hallmarks of an outstanding editor is the ability to step back and see the bigger picture as well as focusing on the tiny details.

Related roles

Some editors take on roles that are related to editorial work and may even be combined with it, but use a different set of skills.

Permissions

Many of the documents editors work on include images or text that come from somewhere else. Sometimes they can be used with a simple acknowledgement, without asking for permission from the rights holder. But depending on the context, and the amount of material being reproduced, often it will be necessary to seek permission. An editor might be asked to handle this aspect of a project alongside their editorial work, or it could be subcontracted as a discrete job. Either way, it’s a useful skill for an editor to be able to offer, and the CIEP now runs a course on copyright for editorial professionals.

Picture research

Sometimes, editors go beyond just looking at pictures, and help to choose them. Picture research can be a really interesting facet to our work. Just as when you’re checking images that have already been placed, you’ll need to keep an eye out for details that fit with the text that needs to be illustrated. Consider the audience, and ensure that any picture you use works as hard as possible to support or augment the text, to ensure maximum value of paid-for images. Some images are free, or may be used freely with a credit (see for example Unsplash or Pixabay). Others must be paid for, and the cost per picture will depend on the size of the image and the type and reach of the publication.

Project management

Many freelance editors are employed to manage editorial projects. This can involve setting and monitoring budgets and schedules, as well as commissioning contributors such as authors and illustrators, and freelancers like designers, editors and indexers. Attention to textual detail is still important, but at this level of work you’ll need to be able to cope with tight schedules and increased responsibility, as well as keeping a range of people updated on progress at all stages of the project. You’ll also need to assess the work of others and provide feedback where necessary. The CIEP offers a course in editorial project management, and it also publishes a guide to this subject if you want to find out more.

 Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and has worked on thousands of projects, involving millions of words and a whole host of other variables. She specialises in highly illustrated non-fiction for a range of clients, and also works as a commissioning editor on the CIEP information team.

 


Photo credits: open book – Blair Fraser; letters – Octavian Dan, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Editing fiction and non-fiction: can you do both?

By Sara Donaldson

Can you have it all?

When you start out you might want to become a brilliant fiction editor. One who works on amazing stories that make your heart flutter when you spot someone reading them on the train. Or you might want to work on excellent non-fiction that delights and informs those around you. Many editors are drawn to one or the other.

But what if, like me, you love working on both fiction and non-fiction?

When I started out, I moved from indexing to editing and project managing almost in the blink of an eye. While I learned on the job I was also working through editorial training, so it was a natural progression to carry on with non-fiction. But when the opportunity to take part in a fiction editing workshop at a SfEP conference came up, it was too good an opportunity to miss. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It really is history – that’s my speciality. But I’ve worked on general fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction and lately, one of my favourites, crime fiction. All while editing non-fiction too.

If you want to work on both fiction and non-fiction there are some things that are roughly the same, but there are also some obvious differences. Bear in mind that my experiences may differ from those of other editors – we all have different ways of working and varying backgrounds – but this might help you decide if both are possible for you.

Is it for you?

Dare I say it, but no editor can edit every type of writing. At least not well. You may be great at editing historical fiction, but rubbish at science fiction, and with non-fiction you may need to be a subject specialist. The more subtle editing often needs someone with a deep knowledge of the subject, or a willingness to learn it quickly. As an academic subject librarian I worked closely with law and civil engineering books, but there’s no way I would edit one.

Before jumping into a new type of editing, make sure it’s really for you. Look at what you read and your subject knowledge – if you don’t read fantasy and sci-fi you might find it difficult to come to terms with genre expectations, jargon and world-building. And you might want to steer clear of scientific non-fiction if you don’t know the difference between the types of ion.

Make sure you’re trained for whichever type of editing you want to do, then there’s no reason why you can’t mix and match, and enjoy the variety that brings.

Similarities

There are definitely similarities between both types of editing: the most obvious are the technicalities of how you approach the documents.

Make sure everything is there

When you receive the files, look through them and make sure you have everything you should – is the word count what you expected, is everything there (check chapter headings, sections and any appendices, tables, images, etc), and is there anything you weren’t expecting? Even in fiction, whole sections can be missing or duplicated.

Pre- and post-edits

Generally speaking your checks will be the same whether you’re working on fiction or non-fiction. I tend to create a style sheet, if one hasn’t been provided, through using Paul Beverley’s Docalyse and a few other macros that let me know the author’s preferences. Then a spellcheck and a sweep through with PerfectIt make sure I’m ready to edit.

Logical flow and no plot holes

With both types of editing you have to make sure the narrative is logical and there are no plot holes. Are the chapters coherent, in the right order, and does the narrative flow logically and with ease? You might come across plot holes – or ‘holes in the argument’ or missing information in the case of non-fiction – that you need to sort out.

Differences between fiction and non-fiction

Despite the similarities, there are enough differences to … make a difference.

Plot sheet/character sheet vs chapter diagram/mock-up

When you’re editing fiction it makes sense to have detailed plot and character sheets to make sure that everything flows well and your brown-haired, green-eyed heroine doesn’t change physical characteristics halfway through the book.

However, when you’re editing non-fiction you’re more likely to have a detailed list of the chapters and the information they contain, perhaps with a mock-up of the book’s insides, and lists of tables, images and diagrams. It’s crucial to make sure that nothing’s missing, you know where everything fits in and that the size and density of the chapters reflect the weight of what’s contained in them.

Style guides

Often fiction authors don’t have style sheets or use guides, whereas non-fiction authors may already use them. Academics especially may use a preferred style guide and should be able to access a copy for you; if they’re an independent non-fiction author, without a style guide/sheet, you might have to work closely with them to pinpoint expected conventions.

Plot, characterisation and consistency vs clarity and organisational flow

With all writing the content needs to be easily understood by the target audience.

One common problem with non-fiction is that you might have multiple authors to contend with. It feels like herding cats sometimes, so you must keep everything in check. You have to make sure the terminology is consistent throughout and that everyone is working towards the same clear message.

With a fiction book you usually only have to deal with one author, so plot, characterisation and consistency can be easier to deal with as you get used to their writing tics.

Levels of intervention

These can differ greatly. With fiction editing you can be more hands-on with the structure and development of the book, but non-fiction will often be under the guidance of the author (and/or publisher). You might have to work with facts, references and notes. Ask any editor who has to work with reference lists – they can be a love/hate relationship and can take a LOT of time to go through.

How to switch from one to the other

If you do think you can cope with the complexities of both fiction and non-fiction, you’re going to have to decide how you manage your workload. Personally, I tend to work on only one or two jobs at a time, so I find it easy to switch between the two. As an editor, my brain tends to compartmentalise, so I find it easier to split my day and work on non-fiction in the morning, when my logical brain is more active, then move over to fiction on an afternoon when I’m more relaxed and open to the flow of a narrative. If time allows I might work one whole day on one, then work the next on the other.

How you work will depend on what makes you comfortable, but once the pre-edit is done it makes sense to allow a chunk of time for fiction, to allow you to get into the flow. But you have to be meticulous in all your work – fiction is definitely not an easy option, and non-fiction doesn’t have to be hard.

So can you have it all?

Yes, you can. But respect yourself and your clients – make sure you’re trained and have the expertise to edit to the best of your capability. CIEP has excellent courses, such as Introduction to Fiction Editing, that will make sure you have the skills to build upon.

Sara Donaldson is an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP who works on both fiction and non-fiction, specialising in history and heritage. She’s also a professional genealogist and content writer – when not working she can be found lost in online archives for no reason whatsoever, or in her local theatre.

 


If you want to widen or deepen your editorial skills, have a look at the full range of CIEP courses.


Photo credits: books – Paul Schafer; writing – Priscilla Du Preez, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Kelly Urgan, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What do authors really want from their editors?

By Kasia Trojanowska

What motivates you in your job? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you open a manuscript you’re about to start working on? When sparring with an author client over points of style or the order of chapters, who or what is at the forefront of your mind? Is it the reader? The text? Is it your professional ego (however unacknowledged)? Or is it, perhaps, the author?

I’m going to be bold here and submit that success of any professional in any job comes down to the success of the relationships they can build. ‘Know your clients’ is being drummed into us as the single most important rule of business. Who are those clients? And what do they really want from editors they invite into their creative process?

Not long ago, I met with one such client group – writers. I asked them about their expectations and worries around working with an editor and, very generously, they responded. There was a lot for me to digest, not least one biting comment from an author feeling like they were just ‘a mark for additional income on the side’. Ouch! I hope none of my clients ever said that about working with me, I thought.

So let’s look at the feedback in a bit more detail. Several themes came through particularly strongly: collaboration, expertise, empathy and trust. Of those, the majority aren’t easily quantifiable. It’s hard to know after just one email exchange what it’s going to be like to collaborate on a book edit, which can take months. But I believe it is worth trying. In the authors’ words: ‘I’ve always wanted a collaborative effort with somebody honest and enthusiastic’; ‘I would prefer to have an active part in all decisions regarding editing’; ‘I would expect a partner’.

An interesting insight for me was that, perhaps contrary to what myriad self-publishing services would have us believe, the traditional publishing route is still the goal for many authors, even those just entering the field. For that, they need to impress the gatekeepers – agents and commissioning editors: ‘Agents can be very picky.’ A helpful steer is what they’d seek from an editor: ‘I would like to work with a well-connected editor who can help me get published’, ‘I think the editor needs to have an in-depth understanding of what agents and publishers require’ and ‘I’d want someone with … an eye on the market to … give [my work] its best chance of publishing success’. This type of service can come in the form of agent introductions, collaborations with various publishers or providing well-researched, well-grounded market advice. What that would mean for an editor is cultivating relationships in the publishing world: networking, learning the ropes (by taking part in seminars, webinars, book launches, author meetings), going to conferences and being aware of the latest publishing trends. It can add another string to your bow and quite an exciting one at that.

Perhaps less surprisingly, authors are also interested in the more down-to-earth editing know-how: ‘guidance on structure and plot’, ‘help [me] polish the work’, ‘make sure that the work is structurally and grammatically correct’, ‘an informed point of view’. These are all skills we learn by taking part in CIEP courses and other editorial training.

Then, there are the concerns of putting their work into the hands of another. These to me centre around that most intangible of qualities, trust. ‘How to find a good editor?’ was a theme that came through a lot in the comments: ‘finding the right chemistry and a mutual respect’, ‘I worry that I might get the wrong editor who won’t see the book the way I do’, ‘[I’d worry] that the working relationship wouldn’t be strong’. I feel these come down to what the artist Louise Bourgeois called ‘the final achievement … communication with a person.’*

When I shared with her that I was working on this blog, writer Lauren McMenemy responded with an elegant reflection:

‘The relationship between author and editor is almost as important as that between the author and their story. The editor is the one that can get the piece polished – not perfected – and ready to set free, which is the author’s goal. The delicate balance between helpful and pushy is one the editor must carefully tread, but we as authors must also be in a mindset to trust our editor and know that we’re both working towards making the piece the best it can be.’

Taking the time to understand our client and their needs, having clear terms of service (so that both sides know what to expect) and making sure they feel they can trust our editorial expertise are all at the heart of a fulfilling relationship with our authors. If you can top that up with advice about what can get an agent interested and what can help an author get a foot in the door and win them a publishing deal, you’re guaranteed a host of satisfied clients. And your professional ego will thank you, too!


*Cited in Siri Hustvedt (2017) A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, London: Sceptre, 27.

I thank Sutton Writers, who hosted me at their meeting in January 2020 and provided invaluable insights which inspired this blog. Lauren McMenemy is one of the group’s coordinators.

If you’re an author worried about finding the right editor for your work, I’ve got some tips on ‘How to find an editor’.

Kasia TrojanowskaKasia Trojanowska is a copy-editor, proofreader and text designer, an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP. She’s incurably curious about the world of publishing and is always looking for ways to be more helpful to the editorial and writer communities. She writes about all things editorial on her website.

 


Searching for an editor? Browse the CIEP’s directory of experienced editors.


Photo credits: Cogs by Bill Oxford; pencils by Joanna Kosinska, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

Blog post round-up

By Sarah Dronfield

There is a Facebook group for editors, Editors’ Association of Earth, in which I share a weekly round-up of editorial blog posts. If I read articles or listen to podcasts that I think will help editors and proofreaders with their continuing professional development (CPD), then they go into my round-up. They might be aimed at improving editorial skills and knowledge or they might give tips on marketing, for example.

It seems a shame that CIEP members who don’t use Facebook might be missing out on this opportunity for CPD. So, here is a round-up of some of the best posts and podcasts from 2020 so far.

The editor–author relationship

What do you do when you receive a request for proofreading, but it soon becomes apparent that the manuscript will need editing? Richard Bradburn can help you navigate this tricky situation.

As well as establishing the level of work required, there are other key questions that we should ask potential clients. Jo Johnston covers them here.

What about once you’ve agreed to work together? In this post, Pádraig Hanratty describes editing as a collaborative process and explores, step by step, how we can establish a good editor–author relationship. And this post, by Aaron Dalton, focuses on how to write effective editorial comments.

Sometimes, no matter how good the relationship, things do go wrong. Liz Jones details strategies that can help us cope with criticism. And here Erin Brenner explains how to write an apology letter to a client that may help regain their trust.

Imposter syndrome

This is something that even affects experienced editors from time to time. It is addressed here by Lisa de Caux. And here, Adrienne Montgomerie lists ten actions to fight it.

Efficiency

Learning to use keyboard shortcuts in Word can save you a lot of time. If, like me, you find that there are some you can never remember, it helps to have a list handy. Louise Harnby has kindly provided this one (for PC).

Editing and inconsistency

When editing, we usually try to ensure consistency; however, when dealing with numbers in creative writing, readability is more important. Carol Saller explains when to break the style rules.

Scams

There are various ways in which scammers target editors. One scam to look out for is the Frankenedit. This is when someone approaches multiple editors asking for a free sample edit of different parts of their manuscript in the hope that they will be able to have their entire manuscript edited for free. One way to combat this is to request the whole manuscript so that you can select the sample material yourself.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has a warning about some other scams.

Your website

These days, most of us have our own websites. When did you last check and update yours? Nate Hoffelder suggests some questions to ask yourself when refreshing your editor website.

Running and growing an editing and proofreading business

Denise Cowle and Louise Harnby regularly team up to host The Editing Podcast. They recently asked listeners to submit questions about anything they needed help with. The result was two episodes (around an hour each) packed with useful information and advice. Part 1 also contains a little mystery: what is that creaking sound? Don’t worry, all is revealed in Part 2!

In Part 1 they discuss topics such as contracts, invoicing, networking and marketing, and in Part 2 they answer questions about training, choosing a business name and managing imposter syndrome. Follow the links for the complete list of topics covered, and to listen.

COVID-19

Understandably, many people have been blogging about the pandemic, for example, how it has affected them and their work, and tips on getting through lockdown. Although some countries are beginning to come out of lockdown, we aren’t going to see a return to normality any time soon, so it’s useful to know how others have been coping with the situation.

There has been a certain amount of pressure to be productive in lockdown, but Lisa Cordaro is here to help you weather the silent storm.

Most of us are not new to working from home; however, some of us are now having to cope with sharing our workspace with partners for the first time, and those of us with children need to attempt some form of home schooling. In Part 1 of a blog about lockdown with kids, Claire Bacon shares ways to manage a daily lockdown schedule with children around, and in Part 2 she shares ways to manage stress and look after your mental health as a parent during lockdown. In a recent thread in the CIEP forums, members who are also parents shared the ways in which they are coping, or not; Cathy Tingle summarises that discussion here. (I contributed to that thread; my son is the Captain Underpants fan.)

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has advice for those who are alone in quarantine times, and she points out that enforced isolation is not the same as isolation by choice.

Whether we live alone or not, no one is experiencing business as usual. Jennifer Lawler has some thoughts on steps we can take to build resilience in our work and our personal lives, and Erin Brenner also has tips on how freelancers can weather the crisis. And, in this episode of her Edit Boost podcast, Malini Devadas talks about managing emotions and a freelance business in uncertain times.

Andy Coulson has compiled a list of technology-based or focused resources that may be of use during this time.

And finally, the CIEP’s wise owls have some advice and thoughts based on their own experiences during the pandemic so far.

Sarah Dronfield is a Professional Member of the CIEP. She is a fiction editor based in South Wales. She did many things before finally becoming an editor: office admin, archaeology, travelling. These days, when not editing or home schooling, she can usually be found reading.

 


Photo credits: Begin by Danielle MacInnes; desk with headphones by Michael Soledad, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

My year in books

By Abi Saffrey

At the end of each financial year, I reflect on the projects I’ve worked on, the clients I’ve worked with, the money I’ve earned and the money I’ve spent. It struck me at some point in 2019 that perhaps I could do a similar review of what I’ve read over the same span of time. So I set up a spreadsheet and logged the books I read for pleasure and those I edited and proofread. Time and sanity limitations meant I did not log everything I edited, or anything I read that wasn’t a book (but The Phoenix Comic is pretty darn good).

Reading was my greatest pleasure for many years, but going freelance and then having children limited my time and energy for it. I missed reading, but not enough to carve out the time for it. For whatever reason, 2019 was the year that I decided to JUST READ MORE.

April 2019

I copyedited two social science books for a regular client. And I managed a grand total of THREE books for pleasure, all short and very different from each other.

May 2019

I didn’t edit any books this month – I finished writing a guide to Editorial Project Management for the (then) SfEP, and worked on a fair few journal articles. I didn’t read much outside work either.

June 2019

I copyedited two books on subjects that I’m passionate about: climate change and gender inequality. This was the month when I set myself a reading challenge: to read my way through the alphabet (using authors’ surnames), selecting books available in my local library and by ‘new to me’ authors. I managed A–D over the month.

July 2019

Workwise, my focus in July was on student and teacher materials. And I didn’t read ANY books for pleasure. Sorry.

August 2019

A reduced workload because of the school holidays – journal articles only. I might not have read much this month, but I did get to spend two weeks in and around beautiful Tenby. August is my birthday month and, for the first time I can remember, I got NO books for my birthday. I did get some book tokens though, which I stashed away …

September 2019

Back to work with a bang and three books on my desk: political scandal to proofread; sociology and education theory to copyedit. A disappointing one letter crossed off my alphabet.

  • Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera (I have a vivid memory of reading this while sat in the playground at Audley End House)

October 2019

One book to copyedit (social science), two books for fun (and NO letters crossed off my alphabet, tsk tsk).

  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (I started this in September, and read some in my downtime at the SfEP conference … but it’s long and complicated)
  • After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry (finished this one while on holiday in Tromsø – happy days)

November 2019

I copyedited three books in November, all related to welfare, social policy and politics – with those and being involved in a general election campaign, it was an exhausting month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no time for self-indulgent escapism.

December 2019

I started work on a contributed volume about South Sudanese objects (I’m still working on it now – May 2020); it is so different to my normal social sciences fare. A welcome distraction after an election that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I managed to read three books on my own time – the joys of taking some time off over the festive period (alphabet challenge stowed away for another time at this point).

January 2020

I proofread one book – politics – in January, and it prompted me to buy (and read) another book in the series. I also set myself a new reading challenge (after some discussion with my accountability group): to read for 30 minutes a day on five days in each week. I nearly always ended up reading for longer than that, and it meant I ploughed through the pages. There is a slot in my day between collecting/taxiing children and preparing dinner – it tends to be filled with social media and internet browsing in a comfy chair, so I would leave my book on that chair and my phone in my coat pocket.

I went to Amsterdam for a weekend – so a Lonely Planet pocket guide snuck in here too.

February 2020

One copyedit this month – colonialisation, not a cheery read. I counteracted that by carrying on with my 30-min reading challenge, and I even managed to tick FOUR more letters off my alphabet.

March 2020

March’s one book copyedit was on support and health workers across the globe. I finally spent my birthday book tokens – on the paperback editions of Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, both of which I’d been lusting after since their hardback release. I also treated myself to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which was the last book I read before the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been able to focus on books in my free time since.

That year in numbers

So I read 31 books for pleasure:

  • I bought five secondhand, one was a gift, one was nicked off my mum’s bookshelves.
  • I bought ten new (one hardback, eight paperbacks and one ebook), and one had been on my e-reader for at least five years.
  • I borrowed 13 from my local library.
  • There were 19 fiction books and 12 non-fiction books.

I copyedited 15 books, and proofread two. I also dipped into two other books for CPD purposes: What Editors Do (edited by Peter Ginna) and Developmental Editing (by Scott Norton).

End-of-year summary

I’d hoped that I’d find some revelation about my reading habits and trends, or even find that my ‘to be read’ pile would be smaller. Or that I learned something profound and life-changing. But I didn’t, and it isn’t, and … I will leave social media soon(ish). I will definitely keep noting down what I read – reviewing my list and writing this post have brought back so many memories of where I was when I was reading each book.

I’d like to say I’ll go back and read some of these again, but I won’t. There are so many other books out there that need me to read them and I don’t want to set another challenge that I’ll give up on when I get distracted by the next one. Anyway, these are the ones I loved the most in my financial year 2019/20:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – so beautifully crafted, and it presents an all too real future for us.
  • On Writing by Stephen King – I’m never going to read his novels and I’m never going to write a book but I loved the essential message that ran throughout: reading is the best way to learn to write.
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry – it’s pretty close between this and Here Comes the Flood. Her writing sucks me in every time (The Essex Serpent is also compulsive reading, but I read that in 2018).

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She reads books to earn a living and to keep her imagination alive. She’s wondering when the library will open again so she can look at the ‘L’ section of the fiction shelves. She boycotts Amazon.

 

 


If you’re wondering which book to read next, peruse the CIEP’s book reviews.


Photo note: I read Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design in February 2019 and Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet in March 2019, but they cheekily snuck their way into the class of 2019/20 photo.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Why general knowledge is not a trivial pursuit

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

A TV producer friend once told me that he was learning Icelandic to keep his brain active because his job wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough. I found this astonishing, as it’s not a problem we editorial professionals report very often. This itself is probably astonishing to certain people outside our industry, who like to tell us that all we do is spot typos and otherwise engage our brains very little. Of course, we need to know grammatical rules well enough to apply them to our projects – and also well enough to be confident about when to break those rules. But, as is made obvious each year at the conference quiz, many editors have a vast and varied general knowledge. Not even my extensive familiarity with obscure song lyrics has been enough to beat certain erudite colleagues to the coveted title of Winning Team.

It’s often the quirky, stylistic anomalies that stick in our minds; for example, it’s Spider-Man but Batman and Iron Man (you’d be surprised how often knowing that has been useful in my work).
But we also represent that unfashionable but, in my opinion, vital concept – gatekeepers of quality. Many of us are subject specialists, perhaps as a result of previous jobs, often with as much in-depth understanding of our area as our authors – and sometimes more.

But a good general knowledge is also a valuable asset in our line of work. We editors are an inquisitive bunch, always interested in learning something new. If we don’t understand an argument or trust a fact in a manuscript, neither will our readers. We might raise an author query, but frequently, we don’t have enough time or access to the author to await their response, so we simply need to check for ourselves.

On a day-to-day basis then, as far as essential editorial tools go, Google is right up there with PerfectIt. Other search engines are, of course, available, but ‘to google’ is now a transitive verb sufficiently common to be an effective, lowercase shorthand for ‘carrying out an internet search’. Google itself reportedly discourages the term, preferring ‘to search with Google’. I fear, however, that it is far too late to retrieve that particular phrase from the black hole of the internet.

While thinking about all this, I realised just how often I google words and phrases in the course of my work, so I started to keep a log of what I’d searched for, and what I’d found out. The list that follows is just a taster – I’ve omitted or slightly changed some examples to maintain client confidentiality. Note too that these days even editors accept that normal capitalisation and punctuation don’t apply to internet searches.


Term: turn on word spell check

Why? Mental block. I’m updating a brochure about my town, Fakenham, for a friend. I’m using last year’s text as a basis, but on a previous project I’d switched off Word’s functionality for checking spelling as I type. Now I can’t remember how to turn it back on!

Outcome: The top link is from Microsoft, the horse’s mouth, and all the information I need appears on the search page. It’s File/Options/Proofing/Check spelling as I type. The red squiggles reappear. Hoorah!


Term: james beck auctions

Why? I need to increase the number of attractions in the brochure from 15 to 20 (my friend wants ‘20 attractions for 2020’), so I’m splitting up the market and auction entry and want to lengthen the auction text by about 20 words.

Outcome: The search took me straight to the auction house’s website, which confirmed the numbers and types of items typically up for auction. New text covered. Success!


Term: hempton bell

Why? I’m checking the name of the local pub known for its folk jam sessions.

Outcome: Its URL is thehemptonbell.co.uk but the text on the website is The Bell Public House. I’ll go with The Hempton Bell, which is what locals call it, to avoid the current wordiness of ‘the Bell Public House in nearby Hempton’ …


Term: fakenham christmas tree festival 2020

Why? Last year’s text states last year’s Christmas Tree Festival dates. Fakenham established one of the first Christmas tree festivals in the country about 20 years ago, and now it makes thousands of pounds for charities and the church, so I want to ensure this year’s dates are correct.

Outcome: Rare Google fail. The parish church website doesn’t state this year’s dates yet, and nor does anywhere else, so I’ll add a query to the text.


Term: arts and crafts fakenham

Why? I need another entry to make it a round 20. How about art? I know there’s a ‘have a go’ crafts shop, and an annual Norfolk and Norwich art trail, but is there anything else?

Outcome: Hmm, the results reveal only the shop I was thinking of, plus (inevitably) The Works chain for art supplies, and a picture framer. That’s not enough.


Term: norfolk and norwich open studios

Why? This is my favourite event of year but not many artists participate in my town.

Outcome: It takes me to the event’s website but the search mechanism there doesn’t allow me to search by location so I have to download last year’s brochure. I search the PDF for ‘Fakenham’ but only one artist was based in the town. Forget that idea, then! What else does Fakenham offer?


Term: pensthorpe norfolk

Why? I read the brief again and my friend had suggested including Pensthorpe Natural Park,
a tourist attraction on the outskirts of town.

Outcome: The search takes me directly to the website, where there’s plenty to fill 50 words.
I’d forgotten that BBC’s Springwatch was filmed there a few years ago. Job done.


Term: Neprajzi Muzeum artefacts

Why? A client with whom I’m working on a new edition of a travel guide to Budapest has heard that one of the main attractions, which we knew was relocating, won’t reopen until 2022. No photos of the new building are available. We only have photos of the original building, which are now wrong.

I wonder if we can use photos of some of the major artefacts, as they will probably still be on display when the museum does finally reopen.

Outcome: The image search revealed some distinctive artefacts so I suggest we include these, which would avoid having to restructure the book to accommodate a new (as-yet unspecified) attraction to fill the space. The updater of the book later copies me into an email to the client suggesting the same thing, and the client agrees. Success! Now it’s up to the poor picture researcher to source appropriate photos.


Term: karpatia restaurant budapest

Why? Are the accents correct in Kárpátia? It also appears as Kárpàtia in the text.

Outcome: Kárpátia is correct. I amend the text.

 


Term: musee picasso

Why? In a Paris guide this time, I need to amend a photo caption to something more meaningful. The image showed a gallery in the museum but the picture credit only includes the name of the museum, not the artwork that is featured.

Outcome: I can’t find any images of the exact gallery, but reviews and descriptions say it’s a calm and peaceful place to view Picasso’s art, so I incorporate that into the caption.


Term: THE Steak House Circus Circus

Why? Are those weird capitals correct in this Las Vegas travel guide?

Outcome: Apparently so. Hoorah for branding.


Term: edingburgh castle

Why? The source image seems to show the whole city, not the castle specifically.

Outcome: ‘Showing results for edinburgh castle. Search instead for edingburgh castle?’ Yes, thank you for patronising me, Google. But it was indeed an image of the whole city. I add a query to the PDF.


Term: personal care elderly frail

Why? I’m editing a report that contains this rather depersonalised phrase. Is it in common use?

Outcome: The search suggests not. I will change the text to ‘personal care for frail elderly people’ but will add a query to confirm whether the original phrase is acceptable.


Term: is bristol in north somerset

Why? I’m from Bristol originally and I’m pretty sure it’s a county in itself. I know it’s certainly not in the long-obsolete Avon, a common mistake that drives me crazy.

Outcome: Bristol is indeed a county (and/or a unitary authority), its population twice as large as the two bordering counties, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset (is the ampersand correct? Google doesn’t have a definitive answer to that).


Term: rail services patchway

Why? Is there a station in Patchway?

Outcome: Yes, there is.


Term: CrossCountry and GWR lines

Why? Is the brand for CrossCountry rail services one camelbacked word?

Outcome: Yes, it is.


Term: Supportive of or supportive to

Why? In a proofread, the text reads ‘the parents are supportive to the child’ but I would normally expect to see ‘supportive of’. Is ‘to’ common in such a context?

Outcome: I find a website that says ‘of’ is a much more common construction. However, another web forum suggests ‘towards’ as an alternative, which I think fits the context better. I change the text accordingly.


Term: IDE (Integrated Development Environment)

Why? I don’t think the definition should be capitalised but it might be a branded or copyright expression.

Outcome: It’s not. Lowercase.


Term: lower case

Why? Mental block – is lowercase one word?

Outcome: ‘According to The Associated Press Stylebook and the Microsoft Manual of Style, you should write “lowercase” as one word when being used as an adjective and as a noun.’ So there you go. I check my PDF mark-up.


Term: personal identification number

Why? Is this what PIN stands for, rather than ‘personal identity number’?

Outcome: Various sources say so. Wikipedia (which incidentally always needs to be backed up with another source) has an amusingly passive-aggressive answer: ‘A personal identification number, or sometimes redundantly a PIN number … ’


So what can we conclude from this little experiment? A few things, I think:

  • Although we’re rarely asked specifically to check facts, it’s always worthwhile maintaining an open, questioning approach so that we can pick up on anything that doesn’t quite ring true. Perhaps ironically, the more you know, the more you question and the more you find yourself verifying the text.
  • Taking 30 seconds to search the internet takes much less time and effort than reflexively raising an author query. As an occasional author myself, I’d much prefer my editor to proactively check something that doesn’t sound right instead of just asking me, as long as I have the chance to see any amendments afterwards.
  • That said, the internet doesn’t provide all the answers. Sometimes, we do need to use other sources, such as the CIEP forums, the client, the author or subject specialists.
  • Our work exposes us to a huge volume and variety of information. It’s a form of continuous professional development (CPD) – on-the-job learning with the side benefit of a mental library of interesting facts.
  • Fluency in Icelandic is optional.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Her team has twice won the Fakenham Library quiz; her quiz superpower is song lyrics.

 


Photo credits: jukebox – Alex Holyoake; Christmas tree Aurelio Arantes; Budapest – Lucas Davies; Clifton suspension bridge – Nathan Riley, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

In your own words

By Claire Bacon

How to recognise and avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offence which can damage a writer’s professional reputation. In many cases, researchers are not aware of plagiarism in their research papers. Understanding what plagiarism is and how to avoid it could save published work from retraction. In this post, I explain the different types of plagiarism and give tips on how to recognise and address them when editing.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism means presenting the results and ideas of somebody else as your own. The AMA Manual of Style1 describes four types of plagiarism: direct plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, paraphrasing and insufficient acknowledgement.

Direct plagiarism is using exactly the same words as somebody else without quotation marks or without crediting the original author. For example:

Plagiarised: We believe that researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.

Not plagiarised: As stated in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, ‘Researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.’

Mosaic plagiarism combines ideas and opinions of somebody else with your own, without crediting the author. Take a look at the following paragraph:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. In 90% of cases, lung cancer is caused by long-term tobacco smoking, but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

In this example, the phrase highlighted in bold has been copied directly from another source and no citation has been given. You can fix this by rewording the sentence and citing the appropriate reference:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. The majority of cases are caused by long-term tobacco smoking (Smith et al. 2016), but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

Paraphrasing is rewording sentences and retaining the original meaning without crediting the author. This is an easy mistake to make but describing an idea in your own words does not make the idea your own – credit must still be given to the original author. If the Smith et al. 2016 reference were removed from the example above, this would be an example of plagiarism by paraphrasing.

Insufficient acknowledgement is not citing the source material. This means the reader cannot distinguish between your ideas and those of others. For example:

Plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models. In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Not plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models (Glaser et al. 2018; Jones et al. 2019). In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Avoiding plagiarism by insufficient acknowledgement can be tricky because common knowledge does not need to be cited in a research paper. Nobody would cite Watson and Crick’s 1953 publication when describing the structure of DNA, for example. But it’s not always clear what is common knowledge and what isn’t. Something that is well known to an author may not be so well known to readers who are not experts in the field. In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are unsure whether a fact is common knowledge or not, ask the author to include the citation.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association2 also describes self-plagiarism, which is presenting an author’s previously published results and ideas as new. Writers are often surprised to learn they can plagiarise their own work. To avoid this, ensure the relevant source is cited when referring to results and conclusions that have already been published.

Now let’s take a closer look at why authors plagiarise and how you can tackle plagiarism when editing.

Publish or perish (or plagiarise?)

Researchers are under extreme pressure to publish their work. The more papers they publish, the better their chances of securing essential funding to continue their projects. This brutal ‘publish or perish’ scenario is probably the main reason for deliberate plagiarism in academic publishing.

Life is even harder for the non-native English-speaking researcher. They may solve their writing difficulties by searching the existing literature for templates of good-quality writing to use in their own papers. This is often not deliberate plagiarism, but the consequences are still severe. Professional language editors can help avoid this by giving their clients the freedom to write in their own words, safe in the knowledge that their ideas will be clearly expressed after the editing process.

Encourage your clients to think about what they want to say before they start writing. Their manuscript should be centred on a specific research question. The background information that is given, the materials that are used, the results that are presented, and the literature that is discussed should all focus on explaining and answering this question. This template will help your clients to distinguish between their own ideas and those that need to be cited.

Stay out of trouble

Plagiarism is a serious offence which is often committed by accident in research writing. Authors are ultimately responsible for the content they put forward for publication, but editors (and proofreaders) should query anything they suspect may be plagiarised. Keep an eye out for text that is phrased differently from the author’s usual style, and for any facts or figures without sources. Listen to your professional intuition!

1 AMA Manual of Style (10th Edition), page 158.
2 Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Edition), page 16.

Claire Bacon is a former research scientist and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copyeditor for The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

This article was published on Claire’s blog on 28 January 2020. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


On 1 March, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders becomes the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading, following the granting of a royal charter. Read the Chartership FAQs, keep an eye on our social media feeds over the coming days, and next week read the first CIEP blog post!

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Photo credits: Books Aaron Burden; Laptop – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.